You now live in a purple state

Every year, the Gallup organization conducts an analysis of political party affiliation in the states.

For those of you hoping for a banner year for liberalism, prepare to be disappointed. This year, Gallup’s research showed that 13 states moved in a partisan direction; 11 of them moved toward Republicans.

Red (Republican) states now, for the first time ever in Gallup’s tracking, outnumber blue (Democratic) states.

The states that shifted in a Republican direction were a combination of those moving from a “competitive” state, where each party has a realistic chance of winning, to a “lean Republican” state, coupled with those that moved from “lean Democratic” to “competitive.”

That move from blue to purple (competitive), is what happened in three states, including our state of Maine, as well as Pennsylvania and Michigan.

So Maine is now, according to Gallup, purple. That is something I’ve been saying forever.

It is important to note that this survey isn’t a reflection of a state’s registration statistics. Instead, it is a survey intended to find out what the people of a state self-identify as, since voter registration is often far behind public opinion. There are thousands of people in Lewiston who are registered as Democrats but have been voting Republican for at least six years now.

In Maine, while the Democrats enjoy a small, four-point registration advantage (31.49 percent Democrat, 26.97 percent Republican with 37.41 percent unenrolled), the self-identification now goes in the other direction.

Gallup’s survey shows that more Mainers self-identify as Republican, or lean Republican (42.5 percent), than self-identify as Democratic, or lean Democratic (38.8 percent). Indeed, the Republican advantage in self-identification is strong enough that it is very close to the “lean Republican classification” by Gallup.

The reason this is important is because of Maine’s large unenrolled population. These voters in Maine, as I have been desperately trying to tell people for years, are not members of the center-left coalition. There is a reason that no Democrat has won a majority of voters in a statewide election since 1988, and have lost 14 out of the last 16 statewide elections. That reason is that unenrolled voters in this state are independently minded conservative voters.

Think that is an anecdotal observation?

Luckily for us, Gallup didn’t just ask about partisanship. It asked about political ideology as well. That tells us even more about political sensibilities than party affiliation would, and that provided even worse news for hard-core progressives.

In Maine, it turns out, self-identified conservatives outnumber self-identified liberals, 35.4 percent to 24.2 percent.

That represents a 3.7 percentage point advantage for the right in party affinity, and an 11.2-point advantage in ideological affinity.

This is, at the very least, a purple state. But my instincts for a long time have said that this is perhaps a marginally red state.

The myth that Maine is a blue state comes almost entirely from two things. First, the fact that Democrats have won the last six presidential elections in this state. Second, they have had, until very recently, an ironclad grip on the Legislature.

114th_US_Congress_HouseThat second fact has obviously changed in the last six years, as Republicans have twice taken the Maine Senate, and are in a good position to retake the Maine House again this year.

The first is more a matter of the peculiarities of presidential politics. 1992 saw Ross Perot split the vote and hand Maine to Bill Clinton. 1996 saw a popular Democrat winning re-election in an overwhelming fashion. 2000 and 2004 saw a southern evangelical social conservative running as the Republican candidate, which isn’t a particularly good fit for a secular New England state. 2008 and 2012 saw terrible Republican candidates running against a uniquely talented Democrat.

In other words, there hasn’t really been a Republican who was in a position to do all that well in a presidential contest for a very long time. So, surprise! They haven’t done all that well.

But that changes nothing about the politics of the state. As we’ve seen, repeatedly, conservatism wins here. Mainers have been increasingly trending conservative and libertarian for a long time now, and the Gallup survey confirms that.

More importantly, with a Maine Democratic Party and its activists turning increasingly hard to the left, liberals are jeopardizing their future ability to compete in this state, and may in fact exacerbate this conversion to conservatism.

Matthew Gagnon

About Matthew Gagnon

Matthew Gagnon, of Yarmouth, is the Chief Executive Officer of the Maine Heritage Policy Center, a free market policy think tank based in Portland. Prior to Maine Heritage, he served as a senior strategist for the Republican Governors Association in Washington, D.C. Originally from Hampden, he has been involved with Maine politics for more than a decade.